Safety 101 - Lesson 7

July 10, 2006
The most fundamental issue that was agreed upon by the summit participants is the need for the fire service in the United States to change the culture of accepting the loss of firefighters as a normal way of doing business.

During the gathering of fire service leaders in the spring of 2004 in Tampa, FL there was a resounding accord that officer accountability for safety was necessary, doable, and needed enhancement. The issue was so much of a concern, that it surfaced in each of the six domains of discussion:

  • structural firefighting
  • wildland firefighting
  • training and research
  • vehicle operations
  • health-wellness and fitness, and
  • reduction of emergency incidents and risks

There was agreement that there was a need to enhance the personal and organizational accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.

The report released as a result of the conference went on to state:

Cultural Change - The most fundamental issue that was agreed upon by the summit participants is the need for the fire service in the United States to change the culture of accepting the loss of firefighters as a normal way of doing business. This concept was reflected in several different statements that were produced by the individual discussion groups. The summit participants unanimously declared that the time has come to change our culture and our expectations. Within the fire service we all feel the pain with the loss of each individual firefighter, but we have come to accept the loss of more than 100 firefighters each year as a standard expectation. As long as we continue to accept this loss, we can avoid or delay making the radical and uncomfortable adjustments that will be necessary to change the outcome. We have to convince everyone in the fire service that a line of duty death is not a standard expectation or an acceptable outcome.

While this is the responsibility of every member of the emergency service, the officer is one who has the most opportunity to effect cultural change andmake every member accountable for safety.

Personal and Organizational Accountability - The essential cultural change has to begin with accepting personal and organizational accountability for health and safety. Every individual within the fire service has to accept a personal responsibility for health, wellness, fitness for duty, skills development, basic competencies, and adherence to safe practices. The leaders and members of every fire department and every fire service organization must be accountable for the safety of their members collectively and individually. In addition, the members must be accountable to each other. The most important and fundamental decisions relating to firefighter health and safety are made by individuals, from the top of the organizational chart to the bottom. Irresponsible behavior cannot be Tolerated at any level and no external influence can overpower a failure to accept personal responsibility. The managers, supervisors, and leaders within the fire service must instill and reinforce these values until they become an integral component of the culture.

This means that for any safety initiative to be effective, it is critical that management establishes a policy, supports it, and assigns the responsibility and authority to make safety happen.

Management = supervisor = officer

Subsequently a separate task group was established to look at the supervisory and management accountability, responsibility and performance needs to make sure personnel do the right things, and do them with their safety and the safety of others in mind. This group met in May 2005 and facilitated by Oklahoma State University staff worked on "Best Practices" to be used to effect the management aspects of accountability, responsibility and performance.

As we move through the Safety 101 Series, the "Best Practices" developed in this workshop will be integrated into specific lessons.

However, as a general rule it must be remembered that safety is similar to any other business or function. Someone has to be accountable and responsible for the activity. When something goes wrong, someone has to act. When someone needs training, someone identifies it and assures that it occurs. When procedures have to be developed or changed, someone has to take the initiative to make the changes necessary. In most businesses, this position is the supervisor or the manager - the same position that the officer holds in the emergency service ranks.

Lesson #7

The front line supervisor (officer) is the true control point in assuring safety is practiced regularly, whether in industry or in the emergency services. .

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!


Dr. William F. Jenaway, CSP, CFO, CFPS is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in Safety and Risk Management, in the insurance industry. Bill is also an adjunct professor in Risk Analysis in the Graduate School at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia (PA) Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management.

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